Time travel, war, and a dog named Hero. Claire Brown’s social media caught my attention the instant I saw it, and since I’m a sucker for all three of those things, I spent hours panning through her pages. With three books under her belt, and more on the way, I hope to be able to do a book review for her work soon. For now, enjoy her interview, and keep an eye out for more from her in the future.
Q. As always, I like to do an introduction before we get to the writing questions. Tell us a little bit about yourself, outside of your writing life.
I don’t think I’m ever outside of my writing life! I’m one of those writers where there is always a story in my head playing like a movie in the back of my mind.
That aside, I’m an avid reader, movie goer, theater lover, baker and dog walker.
Q. I already mentioned this to you, but your dog, Hero, looks like such a sweetie. What are the joys that come when working with a close animal companion?
Thank you, Hero is as his name suggests a ‘hero’. He’s a four year old Golden Retriever. I’ve had Retrievers most of my life, Hero came in to my life when he was four weeks old and I was looking for a companion for my mam while I was at work. We’d lost my dad the year before, while he was ill we couldn’t have pets but without him and without a dog there was just something missing. From the moment we met Hero and he decided to chew my shoe we knew he was meant to be with us.
So since the day we brought him home at 9 weeks he’s been a joy to be around. Even as I write this he’s sitting beside me trying to close my laptop so I will take him for a walk. He’s the kind of dog that makes you move, he never leaves your side and he makes you laugh everyday.
He is the inspiration behind Captain in The Poppy Garden because he is in his own way a service dog to us. He’s just a very naughty one!
Q. Your Jonah Axe Series looks filled with action, adventure, and time travel. What inspired you to write this series, and how many books are you planning on writing for it?
Like most people there are times in life when something happens or you do something and wonder what if I’d done it differently, would things be better, worse or just the same? I decided if there was a way to change things in life how would that work and how would it impact the lives of the people given that power to change things.
I think the opportunities for the series are endless, I have drafted out a second novel which would look a little deeper in to the background of some of the main characters, after that I have considered going back in time to the Tudor court, to Jack the Ripper and so on.
Q. Being from Sunderland, England, what made you want to study American history?
I always had an obsession with America from childhood, I’m not quite sure where it came from. When I applied for University and was talking to advisers about courses one recommended Joint Honours and since it gave me the opportunity to go to the USA and study there as well as in the UK I jumped at the chance. I studied at Western Washington University for part of my second year and made some great friends.
Q. As a military spouse, I’m always grateful to writers who capture how war affects not only those who fight, but those they come home to. When writing The Poppy Garden, were you able to speak with multiple veterans, or was it inspired by solely your grandfather’s experiences?
I lost my grandfather when I was 16, and I always feel that the book of his life has so many blank pages. I tried for a long time to fill in those blanks but there is a lot of information on what happened to him that it’s just not possible to uncover. I couldn’t tell his story completely and that always frustrated me.
I was working in my garden one day trying to restore it from the manic digging of Hero when it dawned on me how much my grandfather relied on his garden and that it wasn’t just a hobby for him. When I started to think about it in a different way I found that there was another story I could tell. Initially I was able to speak to my grandfather’s brother who could tell me what happened once my grandfather got home.
As part of my research I have spoken to a lot of ex-service personnel from forces and other uniformed services and I also managed to contact a member of my grandfather’s crew who told me what had happened to all members of the crew after WW2 and how they had coped or not as the case may be.
I also looked to the women in my family who had coped with extremely stressful situations and how they were able to support their partners they became the inspiration for Sky.
Q. Authors from all walks of life it seems has an opinion on one very controversial topic. Writer’s block. Do you believe in it, and if so, how do you get out of these slumps?
Oh yes I believe in it and I have had periods where I just haven’t been able to write. I think for me it’s when real life outside of writing becomes too stressful or there is too much going on and your mind is just too tired. I usually try not to beat myself up about it, I’ll try other things to relax be it go for a walk, go to the gym, read a book. I think it’s about giving myself permission to have a break, not feel guilty about not writing and allow my mind and body to relax, then when I’m ready the ideas will start coming back.
Q. Looking back on the past three novels you’ve written, what advice would you give to not only your younger self, but writers just starting to put out their books?
Write, just write anything and everything, don’t get hung up on the end goal whatever that is for you. Write whatever your imagination inspires you to write. Not every idea will become a book, maybe you’ll have an idea but you don’t really expand on it for a year or so, the main thing is you sit down, make time for writing to be part of your life because it makes you happy.
When you have your framework or even finish your book, don’t be disheartened by those who criticize you, not everyone will love everything – it would be a rather boring world if that were so. Pick your reviewers carefully, family and friends are great but if your friend is a horror fan giving them a romantic drama probably isn’t the best idea.
At the end of the day as long as writing makes you happy that’s the most important thing.
Q. With your extensive knowledge in history, what time period do you find yourself drawn to the most, and why?
I think it would have to be either Tudor England or WW2.
When I was around six or seven I remember getting a magazine on Queen Elizabeth I and since then I’ve always loved the Tudor period. I’m constantly watching documentaries about it and reading up on the dynasty from the War of the Roses through to the Gunpowder plot.
Obviously my interest in WW2 stems from my grandfather, I used to spend my weekends with him and my Nan watching old movies, listening to Glenn Miller. I also think my personal style suits 1930’s/1940’s dress – just as some people love the Boho look or goth look I tend to love that Old Hollywood style.
I think everyone has some time or something that they harken back to as almost a golden age, looking at it through rose tinted glasses and that’s probably how I look at both these time periods.
Q. The editing process can be a long road if you don’t know where to start. When it comes to make adjustments to your first draft, what’s the first thing you look to improve on?
Initially once I’ve completed a work, I give myself around two weeks away from it so when I go back to it it’s with a fresh mind. I then tend to work on grammar, layout and story edits as I go. I think once I have it in almost the right format it’s easier for me to work through and spot the errors, omissions in the story. I can then work on expanding where I need to or cutting out what’s no longer necessary.
Q. From your blog, you say you have a love of baking. What would be your favorite pastry to make, and your favorite pastry to eat?
I’m love making a steak pie – I do have to be careful with some foods so I tend to make it how my nan taught me as a puff pastry top rather than a full pastry base. There’s nothing better than having that golden crispy top to slice through and hear crack and crumble.
On the sweet side at the moment I’ve been making a lot of Jam twists and spirals which are so simple to make and taste great. Or there is a recipe I came across on Goodfood to make an almond biscuit which is like a cross between a meringue and a macaroon which are completely addictive.
If I’m buying a pastry I’m a sucker for an almond croissant. I love anything with almonds and/or marzipan.
Q. What made you decide to do the independent route when it came time to publish your books, and how has it been the most rewarding?
I had tried from the age of nineteen to go down the traditional publishing route with a few projects including a screen play and radio play. I took some time away from writing during my dad’s illness, after I lost him I decided life was too short to wait for someone to believe in me and if I wanted to be a published writer there were now ways and means that weren’t available when I was nineteen.
It was a great moment for me to finally see my work in print – as a paper back and as an ebook, it did boost my spirits and help me in darker times to focus.
Q. In Chapter 9 of your blog is all about the right visual for book covers, and I agree with you that Jeanie Henning’s work is eye catching and beautiful. While many authors don’t even get to speak with their cover artists, let alone have a say in what goes on said cover, what’s your favorite part about building your cover with a fellow artist?
I was really lucky to find Jeanie when I did, she’s a great artist where as my artistic talents are probably more like a two year old with colouring pencils. I’m creative just not artistic! Jeanie is great as she has a way of working that really works for me. For my first two novels we work on a Q&A basis from which she draws out the major points of the novel and works on creating images to match that. Once she has a draft we discuss it and make minor changes.
For The Poppy Garden, it was a slightly different process as I knew the visual I wanted – I put in to words what I was looking for provided some images and Jeanie expanded on that. The first version we discussed and tweaked before we got to what is the cover now.
I think for me its vital to get a cover I love as it represents me and my work so I have to really connect with it.
Q. What genre do you love to read the most, and who’s your favorite author in said genre?
I can be pretty eclectic in all things, books, movies and films.
I do love Agatha Christie, so when I want something familiar and reassuring that I know I’ll love I tend to go for a cozy mystery, I love the Agatha Raisin Series and recently I’ve been reading some of the British Library Crime Classics which are brilliant.
History wise I love reading Lucy Worsley, her book The Art of British Murder is a favorite.
Romantic Drama’s are great and I’ve really enjoyed books by Fiona Harper, Samantha Tongue, Holly Martin and Lisa Dickinson.
I’m also a Christmas obsessive so any Christmas book is good for me. I love classics like A Christmas Carol each year I have a stock of Christmas themed novels to read from the beginning of October.
Q. Novel writing and blogging can be two completely different animals, but it looks like you’ve tamed them both. What’s the most enjoyable part of blogging that you’ve found to be different from writing novels?
I think for me blogging has become a bit like keeping a diary, while I’m not going to reveal any deep dark secrets it does help me clear my mind. It’s like having a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee and piece of cake.
Q. Holidays play a big part in your blog. If you could spend Christmas with any author, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you get them?
It would have to be someone like Charles Dickens for Christmas – he created the imagery of Christmas for me, the snowy Victorian streets with the carol singers just make me feel all warm in side.
I think as a present for him it would have to be a leather monogramed notebook and fountain pen – I’m not so sure he’d appreciate an ipad!
Q. My favorite topic to talk about with other writers are when it comes to their antagonist. Even if it’s a “situational” antagonist, the relationship between the writer and their villain has always fascinated me. Which antagonist do you find yourself enjoy writing the most, and how do you relate to them?
For me as a child I was bullied severely from around 5 to 16, as anyone who has been bullied will probably tell you those experiences stay with you. I think for me my villains take on the worst elements of the bullies, I’m not sure if I enjoy writing them or whether it’s just become a way of me addressing something that shaped my life.
Q. You’re very organized when it comes to your creative process. What would you say is the best part about the way you work?
I think for me love the whole process of writing be it making notes in a not book because I’ve had a great idea in the most ridiculous of places, or walking with Hero and looking like a right idiot as I dictate ideas in to my phone.
There’s nothing better for me than sitting by the fire with my laptop writing away it’s like dictating a movie that plays in my head only if I don’ like a scene I can quickly rewind and change it.
Q. What novel would you say is under-appreciated that you’d suggest the audience to go out and read?
One of my all time favorites is Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Lerox, I think the musical outshines the book in peoples mind and while I love the musical the book to me is a darker exploration of what makes a complex monster and the social constructs of the time.
Q. To end, tell us a little bit about what you’re working on right now and when you hope to have it finished.
Currently I’m working on an idea for a romance with a hint of fairy tale about it.
Want to find out more about Claire Brown? Check out her websites and social media below.
Draft to Digital; https://www.books2read.com/u/bzp9qq